When Bill Busch wants to find out what kind of team he’s going up against, he’s not looking at the offense or defense first. Instead, he sits down and puts on the tape of the opposing kickoff and field-goal block units.
“That’s when you know what kind of day you’re in for,” Nebraska’s new special teams coordinator said during an appearance on ‘Sports Nightly’ Wednesday.
“You feel a field-goal block team and you feel a kickoff team,” Busch said. “You just can sense it, you can feel their power, their intent. You see teams that are sloppy, that don’t try to block a field goal and take one step and jog off the field. Or their kickoff team, they don’t buzz all the way through the end zone and things like that, you know you have an advantage.”
Busch joined the Huskers’ staff in February 2020 as a defensive analyst after spending the previous three seasons as LSU’s safeties coach, where he was part of the Tigers’ undefeated national championship team in 2019. He’ll oversee a struggling specialist group that saw the departures of place kickers Connor Culp and Kelen Meyer, as well as punter William Przystup, a former transfer from Michigan State who averaged just 36.88 yards on 16 punts last season.
The Huskers wanted to revamp their specialists this offseason and did so by bringing in five new faces, including four transfers and one from the high school ranks. The transfers are punter Brian Buschini from Montana, place kickers Timmy Bleekrode and Spencer Pankratz from Furman and longsnapper Brady Weas from Georgetown. Charlie Weinrich joined the program as a walk-on place kicker from the Kansas City area.
Buschini, the FCS Punter of the Year, averaged 46 yards per punt in 2021 with the Griz, which tied for third in the FCS ranks. The specialist had 28 punts that went for more than 50 yards and also pinned 30 of his 69 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. The Huskers’ punting last season was an adventure. There were several games that head coach Scott Frost rotated punters in-game in an effort to shake things up and get consistent play at the position.
Busch said he wants his special teams to play with high effort and be “situational masters” which means being ready for anything and everything. A lot can go wrong on special teams—the Huskers know all too well—so being prepared for those moments will be key, even if they never happen on Saturdays.
“There’s a term called Mayday field goal, which means you’re going to run out and kick a field goal while the clock’s running on the last play of the game,” Busch said. “Well, in my 30-plus years of coaching, I’ve never had to defend one and I’ve never had to run one. But yet you do it every week, because when you need it, you need it. It’s important. There’s no, ‘Oh, my bad.’ You don’t get a ‘My bad,’—everything’s fourth down on special teams.”
Busch is also known for his recruiting acumen. While at LSU, he was credited with convincing future Heisman Trophy winner and current Cincinnati Bengal, Joe Burrow, to land with the Tigers after transferring from Ohio State. How has Busch maintained his status as an elite recruiter as he gets older?
“The biggest thing that has to happen in recruiting is you have to adapt. So if I’m older, I can’t go, ‘Ah, I don’t like Twitter. I don’t want to do texting, I’m not doing that.’ You have to,” Busch said. “You have to adapt to what’s going on and what the main thing is. Still, in the recruiting process, to be able to get people to talk to you, they have to like you. So the first thing is to get the person, the recruit, to like you so when you do text them to call, or you’re reaching out to them, they always answer the phone. Then you always have a chance, and you get a chance to go to the next level and the next level.”
When out on the recruiting trail, Busch said he’s always looking for players who would make his own room better. Competitiveness is one of the most important traits he searches for in young players.
“Competitive spirit is one I look for right away, and if someone says they’re competitive, I’ll always ask, ‘Prove it to me,'” Busch said. “How are they competitive? If you have someone who’s a three-sport athlete, say he was a state runner-up in wrestling, he won the 200-intermediate hurdles and he was all-state in football, that means he’s probably pretty competitive. He took one uniform off and got in the next one and was able to compete. If they play wide receiver and no other sports, don’t play defense, I’m not so sure. So you always look for ways to find out.”
Managing the kickers and punters will be a crucial part to Busch’s job moving forward. Busch didn’t do any kicking during his playing days at Nebraska Wesleyan, so he understands it’s a unique challenge.
“I didn’t kick, I didn’t punt. Not a lot of people have. So I use a lot of people who are really good,” Busch said. “Like right now, Sam Koch with the Ravens, I talk to him all the time. We’re in constant use with him like that to talk about punting. He was my punter when I was here the first time as special teams coordinator. And then we use local people who are around us, like Brett Maher and those guys like that that are around to be able to help us. We’re always using, ‘What are our best resources that are legal that we can use that are available for these guys to be around.'”